Ethical water exchange

Expanding the Concept of "Water Ethics"

David Groenfeldt
Started by David Groenfeldt on
19 Jul 2013 at 13:06
Director, Water-Culture Institute
Know-how: Ecosystem Management, Environment

The Ethical Water Exchange is a great example of how ethics (in the case, about human rights, ecosystem health, and peace) can (and should) play a role in structuring business deals that involve water.  In fact, ethics ALWAYS get factored in, but usually without awareness, i.e., tacitly.  These tacit ethics, based on unexamined principles, get us and the planet into big trouble like Mountaintop removal and uranium or gold mines that leach deadly contaminants into drinking water aquifers.  It's a lot better to think through the ethics carefully and deeply from the outset.  This, to me, is the lesson embedded in the case of the Ethical Water Exchange:  By considering the ethical principles from the very beginning of structuring water deals, solutions can be developed that really do benefit all three sides of the triangle:  people, planet, and profit.

I would like to suggest a way of tweaking the Ethical Water Exchange to bring out the ethical components even more clearly, and perhaps more effectively, and that is by expanding the concept of what we are including in our concept of water ethics.  I have a book about this coming out in September from Earthscan, entitled, "Water Ethics: A Values Approach to Solving the Water Crisis" (  In my book I propose 4 categories of ethics relating to water:  (1) Social ethics (including governance and human rights), (2) Environmental ethics (in which I include "rights of nature" but others prefer to talk about "rights of people to healthy nature"), (3) Economic ethics (valuing efficiency for its own sake), and also (4) Cultural ethics (the rights of indigenous and traditional cultures to live according to their own cultural practices and on their customary and ancestral lands).

My organization, the Water-Culture Institute, along with a growing number of partners (including UNESCO and the Club of Rome) are working on a "Water Ethics Charter" which will articulate key concepts of water ethics into a practical format which companies, cities, and other organizations can then endorse, or endorse with their own changes, and then commit to abiding by those principles.  Hopefully this will inspire other businesses to take a similar approach as the Ethical Water Exchange in finding creating ways of profiting from water while also contributing to healthier water ecosystems and more vibrant local communities.  We are looking for business partners to get involved in this initiative.  For more information, see


David Lloyd Owen
For me, the great thing about the Ethical Water Exchange is that it is a tool for realising the point that (in Nick Parker's words) 'wastewater is an oxymoron'. Wastewater is not a waste, but a crucial source of energy, nurtients and indeed, water. Unlike water, there are no political hang-ups about it being 'an uncooperative commodity' indeed, by looking at wastewater / sewage / industrial effluent as a commodity, we can realise value from it and that value will ensure its safe, beneficial and efrfective treatment and recovery.
Valerie Issumo
Thank you. We designed the Ethical Water Exchange platform (all copyrights reserved) to add sanitation/sewage mainly via foreign trade finance. Treated wastewater price could be compared to water input value according to quality and availability in case water resources continue to be contaminated/leaded with heavy metal, pollutants... Treated wastewater trading to get water resources back as common good is not only based on "the polluters pays principle compliance" as what is legal is not always right (water quality norms + allocations to be adapted to new situation/risks)
Trudi Schifter
Hi David, feel free to post the link to the water ethics charter on the engage tab "what's new" with a link to this post.
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